Iran’s intelligence agencies blame one another for scientist’s assassination

Iranian security agencies are blaming each other for the lapse which led to the killing of the country’s top nuclear scientist in Tehran on Friday. 

Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was killed in broad daylight in a targeted attack on his car, despite having bodyguards from the elite Revolutionary Guards Security Force. 

Commander Hossein Dehghan, a former defence minister, told state TV that Fakhrizadeh had been killed because of ‘infiltration into Iran’s security structure’, after witnesses said a group of gunmen had opened fire on the scientist’s car. 

But semi-official media linked to the Guards has published more elaborate accounts of an unmanned, high-tech operation involving a remote-controlled machine gun and carried out ‘without any assassin at the scene’. 

Today, CNN quoted a US official saying that Israel was behind the assassination, a theory which Iran has openly endorsed and which Israel has not commented on. 

Mourners including Iran’s judiciary chief Ayatollah Ebrahim Raisi look at the coffin of slain nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in Tehran on Saturday following his assassination 

Israel gets new missile boat as tensions rise 

Israel received the first of its new missile boats today, with a top naval officer saying the upgrade ‘dramatically’ improves the country’s ability to counter regional rivals, including Iran.

The procurement of four naval vessels and three submarines from German industrial giant Thyssenkrupp has been the subject of long-running corruption probes involving top allies of PM Benjamin Netanyahu.

But graft allegations aside, the ships themselves form a key part of a major naval upgrade in the Jewish state, Israel’s head of naval operations said last week.  

Eyal Harel said the new fleet would bolster the navy’s capacity to defend increasingly lucrative offshore natural gas assets from rivals like Lebanon’s Shiite group Hezbollah, which receives backing from Iran. 

According to a September article by the Center for International Maritime Security, a Washington-based think-tank, the ships and new submarines will enhance Israel’s capacity to launch a direct strike on Iran.  

The vessels – Saar 6-class corvettes – are equipped with ‘the (most) sophisticated radar on board any vessel in the world,’ Harel said.

The first Saar 6, the INS Magen, arrived at Haifa’s port on Wednesday. 

The unnamed official said Israel has sometimes shared intelligence with the US before carrying out covert operations in Iran, but did not say whether the White House knew about Fakhrizadeh’s killing before it happened. 

Fears have grown that Middle East players will exploit the lengthy transition period in the US to inflame tensions and complicate Joe Biden’s efforts to mend relations with Iran when he takes office in January. 

Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018 and began reimposing crippling sanctions, but Biden has promised a return to diplomacy. 

Iran’s president Rouhani says Iran will seek its revenge for the assassination in ‘due time’ and not be rushed into a ‘trap’. 

Rouhani on Saturday accused Israel of acting as a ‘mercenary’ for the United States by carrying out the assassination. 

Israel has not commented on the incident but in the past has acknowledged pursuing covert operations against Iran’s nuclear programme to gather intelligence. 

In 2018, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu announced that Israel had smuggled a trove of of paper and digital files on Iran’s secret nuclear weapons programme out of the Islamic Republic. Iran rejected this as fraudulent.

Netanyahu had identified Fakhrizadeh as a prime player in what it says is Iran’s nuclear weapons quest, although Tehran denies seeking nuclear arms.  

Fakhrizadeh is the fifth nuclear scientist killed in targeted attacks since 2010, exposing apparent flaws in Iran’s security apparatus.   

Iran has given contradictory details of the killing of Fakhrizadeh. Shortly after he was killed, witnesses told state television that a truck exploded before a group of gunmen opened fire on Fakhrizadeh’s car.  

Government spokesman Rabiei said on Tuesday that the intelligence ministry had warned the scientist’s bodyguards weeks in advance about a possible attack, according to the New York Times. 

The Revolutionary Guards’ Security Force, or Close Protection Unit, assigns bodyguards and security officers to top military and civilian officials. 

‘This crime could have been prevented if security protocols has been followed and they had been a little more careful,’ Rabiei said.  

Fakhrizadeh was killed in broad daylight in an attack on his car (which is pictured in the aftermath of the assassination on Friday)

Fakhrizadeh was killed in broad daylight in an attack on his car (which is pictured in the aftermath of the assassination on Friday) 

Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was killed in an ambush involving an explosion and then machine gun fire on a road between the countryside town of Absard and the capital of Tehran

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (pictured) today called Fakhrizadeh 'the country's prominent and distinguished nuclear and defensive scientist'

Mohsen Fakhrizadeh (left) was described by Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (right) as ‘the country’s prominent and distinguished nuclear and defensive scientist’

Another Iranian security official said that the assassins ‘obviously operated based on detailed intelligence about martyr Fakhrizadeh’s movements’. 

‘It is clearly a security weakness and many questions should be answered,’ said the official, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter. 

‘We should know whether there are spies among security people and locate the leak. This is essential for us.’ 

An alternative account was published at the weekend by Fars News and Tasnim News, two agencies linked to the Guards. 

Tasnim said the scientist had been killed in a ‘complicated operation that involved electronic equipment without any assassin at the scene. ‘ 

On Sunday, Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran, told state TV it was ‘a very sophisticated assassination that was carried out remotely with electronic devices’ and with no people on the ground. 

‘There are conflicting accounts on how Fakhrizadeh was assassinated, but a degree of infiltration is certain and this is what worries the Islamic Republic the most,’ said Kasra Aarabi, an Iran analyst at the Tony Blair Institute for Change think tank. 

‘We have no idea whether these reports of a satellite-controlled-truck-mounted-machine-gun are true, but they serve two key purposes for Tehran: trying to deflect embarrassment by portraying the assassination as remarkably sophisticated; and showing how quickly they can crack the case,’ said Henry Rome, senior analyst with Eurasia Group.  

Fakhrizadeh’s killing comes months after a US drone strike in Iraq killed Qassem Soleimani, head of the Revolutionary Guards’ elite Quds Force. 

While Soleimani was considered a ‘terrorist’ by the US, he was revered as a national hero in Iran where his death led to a massive outpouring of public mourning.  

Tehran retaliated by launching missile strikes against US targets in Iraq, before the Guards caused a further crisis by clumsily shooting down a passenger plane.